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LOOKING BACK - LOOKING FORWARD, A Thought from Revd Paul Lanham


I shall refrain from writing directly about the Jubilee, albeit with reluctance.  Since it takes place at the start of the month it will be in the past after a few days and we will look back on it rather than forward towards it.  June for me means summer and my favourite month - apart from those irritating examinations at school and university that were the bane of my life.  And in June we start those endless Sundays after Trinity.

>Someone once came up with the idea of replacing Sundays after Trinity with Sundays after Pentecost but fortunately it never caught on.  In a sense it was a good idea.  Pentecost speaks of power and life, of creation and re-creation.  Trinity speaks of incomprehensible theology and deadness ('Firmly I believe and truly God is Three and God is One' - try working that out and weep at its impossibility).  And yet there is something timeless about it.  Once Trinity Sunday is over there are these twenty plus weeks that go through the summer and into autumn until the first frosts start to encroach.  Trinity reminds me less of theology and more of my boyhood in the village near Gloucester where my father was Rector.  I was brought up in the vast ancient rectory, walking the dog in the fields, sitting under trees, watching the farm at the end of our lane or wandering for miles in neighbouring villages on my bicycle - summer seemed never ending.  Then there was Geoff Green the organist playing Bach after the services as though he were playing to thousands in a great concert hall rather than to the forty or fifty in a village - it began my love of that music that will never die.  Quedgeley is now a vast housing estate but in those days it seemed an enormous rural playground (we left in 1961 and I have vowed never to return to see how it is now).  All that remains of those heady days is memories and a road named after my father long after we had gone and the developers had wrecked the area. 

Some of us may look back in this vein in the past with similar nostalgia, especially about the Church as it once was.  It may also leave us with a certain apprehension about how organised religion is developing and how it is viewed.  The past 70 years have seen enormous changes in the Church of England.  A lot of it has been positive but I am not sure that it has all been gain.  We are constantly being told of the threats that confront us. Yet there is so much energy, so much positiveness in Church life today, in spite of these threats and especially the decline in numbers.  We must be positive and remain positive.


When I was appointed in 1974 to my first Vicarage in darkest Accrington (of Stanley fame - the place exists beyond a football team!) my Rural Dean gave me two pieces of advice which apply not only to individual clergy but to anyone who cares about the Church and its members.  The first was to pray at the start of each day that I should have my priorities right.  The other was that faithfulness was more important than results.  I have never forgotten and have tried to live by them throughout my ministry.  But the advice is as timeless as it was when a young queen ascended to the throne 71 years ago and when so many of us were young - and innocent! 

                                                                                          Paul Lanham

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ASCENSION ? A thought from Revd Paul Lanham.



Writing this at Eastertide reminds me of a scene in the film 'The Greatest Story Ever Told' (the one where John Wayne as the centurion at the crucifixion immortally drawls the words 'Truly this was the Son of God' as only he could).  The disciples have fled from the crucifixion and stand beside the Sea of Galilee.  A stone is thrown into the water and the ripples flow silently outwards in circles, graphically showing their sense of helpless despair and confusion.  It is memorable in its understatement.

May 2022 marks part of this six week period where the disciples seem to be in limbo.  Jesus was still alive but His ministry with them is clearly in transition;  we know so little of what happened in those days, but then at the Ascension Jesus parts from them (we mark it this year on Thursday 26th May).  The way is then set for the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost and the start of all that follows.

We speak of Jesus in terms of ascending into heaven, just as we speak of Him rising again from the dead.  We use the word because we have no alternative.  Going up is the alternative to going downwards or sideways;  they are as much about the spirit of their direction as their physicality, the direction as much of why it took place as how it took place.  Just as Jesus physically died and rose again, so He left this earth physically in some way that we do not understand.  In both cases the meaning of the events speaks as well as what actually happened.

For us this represents a problem, summed up by the first astronaut, the good Communist Yuri Gagarin.  When he reached orbit it is said that he radioed that now he could prove that God did not exist because he had gone up and there was no heaven to be seen.  One of the problems lies in the conflict between religion and the way we are trained to think.  Everything today has to add up, to be rationalised, to be logical.  Religion however speaks of faith.  So we must convince the world of something that we cannot prove and cannot understand.  How could Christ (as God made man) physically die and physically rise again?  How could He leave this earth alive into that state which we call heaven (whatever that is)? April and May seem full of confusion and mystery and while it is arguably the most beautiful month of the year it is also perplexing for those who believe (or try to believe).


Or is it?  During these warm summer months I may be found on our swing seat on a dark evening, gazing up into the sky - and pondering.  What lies beyond what I can see?  Does space go on for ever and if not what lies beyond it?  This to me is the start of an exploration into faith.  Because I cannot understand what lies beyond what I am looking at, it does not mean that it does not exist;  it tells me that my mind has human limitations.  It recognises that fact is not the answer to everything and we have to accept that such limitations exist.  My favourite passage of the Bible is the closing chapters of the Book of Job.  Job has been seeking answers to what has happened to Him with ever growing intensity.  Suddenly the Lord answers Job out of a whirlwind, claiming the right to be mysterious and not to answer Job's questions.  The book closes with Job finding peace in not having answers, that he must love and believe. 

                                                            With my very best wishes - Paul

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LIGHT CONQUERS DARKNESS - A thought from Revd Paul Lanham


Whenever I read St. John's account of the Last Supper I am struck by those words as Judas Iscariot leaves the room to betray Christ - 'And it was night'.  There can be so few words with so much meaning.  The darkness is physical but it is full of tragedy and menace.  There is the darkness of the disciples who feel the atmosphere of impending tragedy but cannot understand what is going on.  Then there is the darkness of Jesus facing Gethsemane - the realization of what lies ahead and how He can resist that ultimate temptation there before the final journey to Calvary.  Then there is the darkness of Judas Iscariot who I am sure is a far more complex figure than he appears in the Gospels.  'And it was night';  you can feel the dark evening air as the figure hurries out of the room, a robe around him, the moonlight casting eerie shadows.

If I am fascinated by Judas then I am also fascinated by the crowd in the days before the crucifixion.  We see them crying out for Jesus as King when He enters Jerusalem on a donkey - yet within a week they are baying for His blood.  If ever there were an example of mass hysteria this is it, but there is also evil reflected in their change of heart.  The priests achieve their evil ends by manipulating the mob but they need the mob - and the mob plays a part with the priests by forcing Pilate to condemn Christ.  They surely represent a hypocrisy that is breath-taking.  I know that this is an over-simplification of the events that week but it stares us in the face and makes the crowd as guilty as the priests and Pilate in what happened at Golgotha.  So to look at that period is to see both a tragedy but also a reflection of so much darkness, so much evil, so much of the image of fallen man.  The cumulative darkness and the cumulative evil become focussed on an innocent Man hanging from a cross, God made man.  It is indeed night in those 24 terrible hours.

And yet darkness is only darkness if it is seen in the context of light, for without darkness there cannot be light.  This is what April means in 2022.  For death is followed by resurrection and without resurrection there cannot first be crucifixion.  This theme is in the first few words of the Bible as light emerges from darkness, just as in the physical sense the dawn follows the night, and winter changes to spring.  At the heart of Christ's death and resurrection is the contrast between the two themes and the victory of the one over the other.  Light conquers darkness.  Healing binds up wounds.  Love overcomes hatred.  Life conquers death.  These things, what's more, are eternal, that love, light and life are all conquering, they will always reign.  This is what this month is all about.  This lies at the heart of the Easter message of hope. 

                                                Wishing you all a Happy Easter - Paul Lanham

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Daffodils, a thought from the Revd Paul Lanham

DAFFODILS I've always especially loved daffodils. For a start they are the symbols of spring and after the winter that is as good a reason as any. They have a kind of golden dignity and they quietly keep on going, year after year. They also don't take any maintenance - while I annually toil on the second Tuesday of March pruning the roses (a ritual, weather permitting) the daffodils just stand up and glow at me. Somehow March looks forward in a way that doesn't happen at any other time of the year. Daffodils also remind me of the Lake District and William Wordsworth. 'I wandered lonely as a cloud that floats on high o'er vales and hills, while all at once I saw a crowd, a host of golden daffodils'. When we lived in industrial Lancashire in the mid-1970’s we often drove sixty miles, walked ten miles over the fells and returned in the evening, with petrol costing three gallons for £1 (remember that?!). One particular walk will never leave me, during a post Easter break about 45 years ago. We escaped the crowds on a brilliantly sunny Sunday, leaving Buttermere to the Scarth Gap and Haystacks. We worked our way round towards the Honister Pass and set between two ranges of hills and at our feet there was a breathtaking view to Buttermere, Crummock Water and Loweswater. Behind us was the Scafell range, the highest peaks in England. The silence was almost deafening. Nobody else was in sight and I could feel God around us in a way that I have never felt since then. Of course there had to be a let down because the crowds had gathered at the foot of the pass on our return. I wonder why I felt so smug when one yelling child slipped and fell fully clothed into a pool. Very unchristian no doubt but I am sure that God had mischief in His eyes that day. Happy memories. We are tempted to confuse solitude with loneliness. Loneliness is a curse of our times. There are countless people who just want a voice, someone knocking at the door - someone to care about them, to matter to them. Loneliness is brutal, it speaks of nobody caring about them. Solitude is about pausing and listening to our inner selves and what is spiritually around us. It is about tuning into the world around us, into God. 'What is life if full of care we have no time to stand and stare?' wrote the poet W. H. Davies. 2   As spring makes its welcome appearance after winter and we can look ahead to the summer with its warmth and long evenings we may remind ourselves of the importance of solitude and be willing to listen to silence and to listen perhaps too to God. For silence is arguably the most life affirming sound there can be, the most revealing one, the most peaceful one. To end a thought from a book I have just read telling of how the tomb of the Unknown Warrior was created. There was a quotation by one of my spiritual heroes, the Great War padre Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy. He wrote this: 'Love is eternal, death does not touch it. Morning gleams through the dark. Today - with me - paradise'. I used it recently when conducting the funeral of a dear friend; I leave it especially with you as the days start to lengthen and the air warms - but it applies to any day of any year. My very best wishes, Paul Lanham
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ELIZABETH OUR QUEEN 70 years ago as a schoolgirl in Hitchin, I was given a book by Richard Dimbleby 'Elizabeth our Queen' and I quote from the chapter about her Father's coronation: ‘To an eleven year old Princess, no matter how well she may have been primed by her grandmother or aunt in the ancient rites of the ceremonial, the moment, thrilling above all, was the moment that she and her sister must have been awaiting. It was the moment when she saw the Archbishop of Canterbury raise aloft the Crown of England. As the Crown was lowered on to her father's head a thousand voices in the Abbey acclaimed him with the cry "God save the King!" A cry that at once sped round the world as silver trumpets, rolling drums, saluting guns and pealing bells heralded the news that a new sovereign had been crowned.......... One more presentation to the King remained, the gift of the Bible - ‘the most valuable thing that this world affords: wisdom, royal law, and the lively oracles of God’. Marjorie McCarley
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